Smoke Detector Requirements in Multi-Family Structures

By Eliza Martinez
Smoke detectors can save lives in the case of a house fire.
Smoke detectors can save lives in the case of a house fire.

No matter what type of housing you live in, it's vitally important to ensure that you have properly working smoke detectors. More than 108,000 multi-family housing fires are reported to fire departments across the U.S. each year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. While the smoke detector requirements vary from state to state, if you live in an apartment, condo or townhouse, there are common guidelines regarding their use to keep you and your family safe.

Number of Smoke Detectors

In a multi-family structure, each individual unit must have its own smoke detector installed. It's not safe to rely on one in a neighboring unit because if the fire originates in your unit, by the time the next door smoke detector alerts you, it might be too late to save your home and belongings and you and your family could be in danger. Before moving in to a new apartment, townhouse or condo, ensure there is a working smoke detector in the unit. If not, ask that one be installed or choose a different unit. In multi-family units with more than one floor, there should be a smoke detector on each level.


Most smoke detectors are designed for installation on the ceiling. This is because smoke rises and the device can alert you more quickly to a house fire if it's up high. Read the instructions that accompany a new smoke detector carefully to be sure it's installed correctly. In general, the device is mounted on the ceiling, a battery is placed inside and a cover is snapped in place.


While many states only require one smoke detector in each unit of a multi-family home, placing more than that offers more protection. Some cities recommend putting a smoke detector in hallways with bedrooms branching from it, in the kitchen and one in each family room of the unit. Most states also recommend placing a smoke detector inside each bedroom, though it isn't a mandated requirement. For small apartments, this might be overkill, but if you have a large condo or townhouse, placing several smoke detectors covers all your bases when it comes to where a fire can break out. If you have a garage, placing a smoke detector inside is a good safety precaution as well.


If you live in a landlord-managed property, there are guidelines about testing smoke detectors on a regular basis to ensure that they are in good working order at all times. In general, each smoke detector should be tested twice per year. In most states, checking smoke detectors falls under a landlord's duty to keep a unit habitable. Tenants, however, are responsible for maintaining good working order to the devices.Check with your property management office to find out where the responsibility rests in your city and state. If you hear the device beeping with several seconds between each chirp, the batteries in your smoke detector should be replaced. To test the device, simply press the button on its faceplate and make sure it beeps in response.

About the Author

Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.